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December 31, 2010

Outback Bowl: Florida vs. Penn State

Saturday's Outback Bowl is the final game for Florida coach Urban Meyer, who has won two national titles in his six seasons with the Gators.

Meyer is 46. The coach on the opposite sideline Saturday happens to be Joe Paterno, 84, who is in his 45th season as Penn State's coach.

"I certainly have some empathy towards the way he wants to go," Paterno said at a bowl media event on Tuesday. "I'm different than Urban. I've got people calling up saying, 'When the hell are you getting out?' I've got a whole different slant on it."

Florida already has hired Meyer's replacement, Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, and Muschamp said he told Gators players it was important that they send Meyer out a winner in his final game.

"We definitely want his last game to be a win," wide receiver Frankie Hammond told reporters. "Coach Meyer has done so much for this program and is one of the greatest coaches of all-time. He deserves to win his last game."

Meyer ended his first season at Florida as a winner in the Outback Bowl, over Iowa. This is the Gators' 20th consecutive bowl appearance, which trails only rival Florida State's 29-year streak. This is Penn State's sixth consecutive postseason appearance and its 37th under Paterno, who is the NCAA leader in bowl appearances and bowl wins (24).

WHO GETS THE EDGE?

Florida rush offense vs. Penn State rush defense: The Gators have 29 rushing TDs, but they have been inconsistent on the ground. TB Jeff Demps, the reigning NCAA 100-meter champ, provides a huge boost when he is healthy -- which hasn't been all that often this season. He has had double-digit carries just three times this season, yet still leads the team in rushing. Chris Rainey has provided a late-season spark and has big-play ability. Backup QBs Jordan Reed and Trey Burton are physical runners, and they enable Gators coaches to use their favored read-option package. Florida will be without starting G Maurice Hurt, who is injured. Guard play has been a big problem for Florida this season, and Hurt's absence will exacerbate the issue. Penn State has been spotty against the run. The Nittany Lions allow 164.6 rushing yards per game, which is 74th nationally. But they've allowed just 12 rushing TDs. Edge: Even.

OUTBACK BOWL

Florida (7-5) at Penn State (7-5)
WHEN: Jan. 1, 1 p.m.
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa.
TV: ABC (Mike Tirico will do play-by-play, with Jon Gruden as the analyst).
THE LINE: Florida by 7.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Florida 5-5, Penn State 2-5.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Florida 17th, Penn State 14th.
BCS RANKINGS: Neither is ranked.
OFFICIATING CREW: From the ACC
COACHES: Florida - Urban Meyer (6-1 in bowls); Penn State - Joe Paterno (24-11-1 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: This is the last game for Florida coach Urban Meyer, and it comes against the longest-tenured coach in the game in Joe Paterno.
KEY STATS: Florida has been pitiful in the red zone, scoring on 37 of its 53 opportunities; that 69.8 conversion percentage ranks 116th in the nation. But Penn State's red zone defense actually has been worse, with opponents scoring on 93.8 of their opportunities. While Penn State has allowed just 32 red zone penetrations (11th fewest in the nation), foes have scored on 30 of them.
Florida pass offense vs. Penn State pass defense: The Gators have just 12 TD passes and there is no go-to receiver. Florida has thrown one or zero TD passes in nine games. Starting QB John Brantley has been mis-cast in this offense, and he has nine TD passes and nine picks. Burton can't throw, and Reed still is raw as a passer. Florida receivers have the speed to get deep, but the Gators simply don't throw many long passes. Penn State's pass defense is mediocre. The Nittany Lions have allowed 19 TD passes and have just nine picks (five came in two games against MAC teams). Still, they look to have the advantage against Florida's pop-gun passing attack. Edge: Penn State.

Penn State rush offense vs. Florida rush defense: TB Evan Royster has had a disappointing senior season. He has had just three 100-yard games and only six rushing touchdowns; he has been held under 50 yards six times. Silas Redd and Stephfon Green haven't done much in backup roles. Florida's run defense has been stellar at times, shaky at others. The Gators have allowed just 12 rushing TDs, and four of those were by South Carolina. UF will be without two senior tackles; Terron Sanders and Lawrence Marsh are injured, which greatly reduces the depth up front. The Gators need their linebackers -- a group that, as a whole, has underachieved this season -- to step up in this one. Edge: Even.

Penn State pass offense vs. Florida pass defense: Walk-on Matt McGloin has played well since being thrust into the starting role because of an injury to Robert Bolden. McGloin doesn't have the greatest physical tools, but he is heady and generally avoids mistakes. Derek Moye is the Nittany Lions' most productive receiver, and he has big-play ability. Moye has seven of the Nittany Lions' 18 TD receptions. Normally, Florida would get the edge in this matchup, but the Gators will be without star CB Janoris Jenkins, who recently had shoulder surgery. He is, by far, the Gators' best corner. SS Ahmad Black has played at a high level all season and is the Gators' leading tackler. He will need to be even more active with Jenkins out. Edge: Even.

Florida special teams vs. Penn State special teams: Urban Meyer has taken great pride in his special teams at Florida, but this season's performance has been uneven. Senior P Chas Henry won the Ray Guy Award as the nation's best punter, and he averages a nation's-leading 46.4 yards per attempt. More than a third of his punts (15 of 44) have traveled more than 50 yards. He has been pressed into double-duty as the Gators' kicker but is just 4-of-8 on field-goal attempts, with a long of 39. Backup WR Andre Debose has starred as a kickoff returner; he averages 29.7 per attempt and scored on returns against LSU and South Carolina. Jenkins had been the punt returner, and it's likely Rainey will assume that role in this game. The kickoff coverage has been good, the punt coverage mediocre. Collin Wagner gives Penn State a huge advantage at kicker; he is 19-of-24 this season, including 8-of-11 from beyond 40 yards. P Anthony Fera averages 41.6 per boot. Fera has had 19 touchbacks as the kickoff specialist. Chaz Powell has done a good job as the kickoff returner and has taken one back for a score. The punt-return team and coverage units have been solid, too. Edge: Florida.

Florida coaches vs. Penn State coaches: This is Meyer's last game and it's coming on the heels of an extremely disappointing regular season. The offense never found an identity, and that is on the coaches. This also is the final game for offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, who already has been hired as Temple's coach. First-year defensive coordinator Teryl Austin spent a day in the hospital this week because of stomach issues. Joe Paterno keeps on keeping on at Penn State, shooting down retirement rumors this week. Offensive coordinator Galen Hall -- who served as Florida's coach from early in the 1984 season to early in the 1989 season -- has had trouble getting consistent production from his guys this season. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley is one of the best in the business. Edge: Penn State.

X-factor: Florida players -- and their fans, who should be in the vast majority in Tampa -- should be jacked up because this is Meyer's final game with the Gators. But will the Gators be too amped up?

Florida will win if: The Gators have to run the ball well to win. If they get behind and have to throw, Meyer's last game is going to be a nightmare. The defense should do its job, but can the offense deliver?

Penn State will win if: It's all about stopping Florida's ground game. If that happens, Penn State is in great shape. Florida isn't going to beat the Nittany Lions throwing the ball, so as long as Penn State's run defense shows up, that's good news for JoePa.

EXPERT PICKS

Olin Buchanan: Florida 20, Penn State 16
Tom Dienhart: Florida 27, Penn State 21
David Fox: Florida 21, Penn State 14
Mike Huguenin: Florida 23, Penn State 20
Steve Megargee: Florida 20, Penn State 13

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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